Vapor IO and Bloom Energy Partner on Gas-Powered High-Density Data Centers

Integration of Vapor Chamber with Bloom fuel cells aims to create low-carbon data center solution

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

August 18, 2015

3 Min Read
Vapor IO Vapor Chambers
Visualization of a warehouse filled with Vapor Chambers (Image: Vapor IO)

Few companies in recent years have tried to challenge conventions of data center design as much as Vapor IO did earlier this year when it announced its Vapor Chamber, a complete rethink of the data center floor layout. The startup is now taking things a step further by partnering with a company that’s challenging the way the industry is used to thinking about data center power.

Vapor IO has partnered with Bloom Energy to integrate its Vapor Chamber with Bloom’s fuel cells, which use natural gas or biogas to generate energy. The application of Bloom’s Energy Server extends far beyond data centers, but the data center sector has been a particular focus for the company and a market where it’s had some big wins, including deployments at eBay, Apple, AT&T, NTT, and CenturyLink data centers, to name some of its more well-known customers.

The Vapor Chamber is a cylindrical chamber nine feet in diameter that packs up to 150kW of server power across six wedge-shaped 42U racks. The traditional data center hot aisle is replaced by a “hot column” in the center, where servers exhaust hot air to be removed by a duct. Cold air is supplied from outside of the chamber. The design aims to pack a lot of compute capacity into a relatively small footprint.

Vapor’s founder and CEO is Cole Crawford, who until recently was executive director of the Open Compute Foundation, which oversees Facebook’s open source hardware and data center design community called the Open Compute Project.

When it came out of stealth in March, the company also announced its own data center infrastructure management software that applies analytics to traditional DCIM data, such as temperature and humidity, as well as non-traditional data such as air pressure and vibration.

While Vapor can optimize for efficiency, it has no control over the delivery system for data center power, which is where the Bloom partnership comes in, Crawford said in an interview.

He first met Peter Gross, who runs Bloom’s data center business, in London last year, he recalls. That’s when the conversation started, and they eventually realized that “we could get to just about a carbon-neutral data center deployment between the two companies,” Crawford said.

While natural gas is a lower-CO2 fuel than coal, it is not generally considered a renewable source of energy. But Bloom fuel cells can use both natural gas and biogas, which can be a byproduct of waste treatment plants, making for a stronger “green” story.

Bloom Energy Servers can also use exhaust heat from the Vapor Chamber to supplement their generation capacity, Crawford said.

Another integration point can be with Vapor’s software to adjust the amount of power the chambers draw from fuel cells. While a Bloom Energy Server’s generation capacity is not adjustable, the amount of power it supplies to a piece of equipment is, Gross wrote in an email.

“They still produce a constant level of overall power, and any excess power not consumed by critical IT loads is utilized for mechanical or other non-critical loads at the data center,” he said.

A single Energy Server can power up to five Vapor Chambers, depending on how they’re configured, Gross said.

Crawford sees the ideal customer for the integrated solution as one that wants “a very green story.” One of Vapor’s major target markets is the edge data center market, or companies that build data centers close to high-population areas where web content providers cache content to improve performance for their users and to reduce their network costs. A small footprint is important in those densely populated areas where real estate comes at a premium.

Crawford said one company is building a “Vapor-enabled” data center in the US but declined to name the customer citing confidentiality agreements. Vapor is also in final stages of negotiations with customers in Europe and Asia.

Vapor and Bloom will promote the integrated solution through their respective channels.

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